The Roots of Summer?
Let's have them in a groovy salad, man!
GET OUT YOUR APRONS! We’re having beets. I wanted to get that out of the way right now, because I don’t want any of you suing me for the purple and gold stains on your white pants.
I won’t lie. I’ve always thought of beets as a fall or winter vegetable for some reason, but here in the South, where I just grabbed a few gorgeous bunches, you can grow them pretty much year-round. Then again, I rarely thought of beets at all for the first half of my life, when I relegated them to the I Do Not Care About These Things category.
And then, suddenly I couldn’t get enough.
I believe most beet lovers become activated by a single dish in a particular place, and mine was borscht, in Manhattan. Not the chilled pale pink sour-cream laced beverage I first drank out of a glass at Barney Greengrass (which was near my apartment and one of my favorite places to eat) but the hearty, complex cabbage-heavy soup prepared for me by the world’s greatest ex-boyfriend, who was using the Moosewood recipe (and who was a really good cook). He added raisins. I remember that borscht day like it was last week.
By the way, I loved the Barney Greengrass strained borscht, but it always seemed more like a flashy party trick than the family recipe it claims to be.
ME, THINKING I’M DRINKING A MILKSHAKE: Hey, where’s the borscht?
BARNEY GREENGRASS: You’re drinking it!
I have no right to criticize, though, having no family beet heritage at all. But I do have extensive beet experience, from the 1990s, when I was able to tear through a heckuva lot of beet and goat cheese salad in its many manifestations, while reporting on restaurants all over NYC. I think we can all agree that that salad was a speedy and efficient way to reach beet nirvana.
I somehow got bored with this iteration, though, and for many years was instead a devotee of a more rustic and chevre-less recipe, the one at the end of this issue, which I used to make often and love so much I have posted it in the Department of Salad twice. I suppose I’m a permanent beet nut, as in here and here and here, among others.
Which is why I’m excited to report that I recently enjoyed a beet-salad treatment that made me feel even more beatific than usual (ha-ha—sue me), in Saluda, NC, at the Purple Onion, where I dined with my friend Julie and her father. I try to order any interesting salad I see, but I don’t mind admitting that I ordered this one because I suspected it was a dumb idea. I can be as cynical as the next person.
My limited imagination conjured the rote caprese that gets pushed on diners all over the planet, but with large beet slices standing in for the tomato (layered with mozzarella rounds, decorated with the requisite whole basil leaves: blah blah blah). Boy, was I wrong. Instead, it was a tart jumble of juicy and mellow cubes, playing together sweetly in a light dressing, perfumed with basil, and with an added element of crunch and nuttiness from a seed mix. Delicious! (See my terrible photo of it, below; it was much prettier in real life.)
When Julie returned to eat at the Purple Onion again the next week, she attempted to hook me up with the recipe. The owner agreed to talk to me, but chefs and restaurant owners lead extremely busy lives that are not built around satisfying the whims of quaint salad newslettrists, so I still have not secured the exact recipe. I’m still trying!
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